Field Archaeology and the Daily Round

In the desert, sitting against a ruined wall, wind ripping through my context sheets, salty sand on my lips, skinned knuckles and bruised knees, I feel like myself again. It’s easy to slip into a comfortable routine on site–photograph, record, draw, excavate, repeat. After academic archaeology it is a relief to be able to excavate with a team of professionals, doing good work with other experienced archaeologists using a sane recording system. So the dance continues, a set of comfortable gestures that make sense–photograph, record, draw, excavate, repeat.

There is a breakfast break, when everyone comes up from their scattered excavation sites and eats whatever the Syrian restaurant 40km away brings us. People have their preferences and discussion of this day’s “pizza” (khubz and cheese or spices or tomatoes) or that day’s falafel is ongoing. I usually prefer to eat by the side of my trench, but the communality is nice, and we hear about it if anyone has any nice finds or if anything interesting has happened. The night’s plans are discussed and complaints about the weather are lodged.

After work we drive back to our flats, unpack the truck, then clean up for lunch. Lunch is from the same restaurant, and also variable. The afternoon is free for us to do as we like, and we sometimes go to a local pitch to play soccer, or run on the beach, or ride bicycles around the small town of Shamal. I have been trying to work on my dissertation with mixed success, so I usually try to write in the afternoons. These afternoons are interminable, and I always think it is much later than it really is.

The evening call to prayer comes and the house gets chilly. We’re usually still full from lunch, but we occasionally cook a little something, watch a movie, then go to bed. Rise again the next day.

The geometrical puzzle of complex, architectural archaeology sustains me, but the body grows tired and worn out. Most of the archaeologists have been here a while already–this week marks their half-way point–and it shows. They’re tired, introspective, the usual distractions running thin. I try not to be too annoyingly excited by being here, excavating again, doing what I like and what I’m best at. I’m sure the sand and wind and sun will wear me down soon enough, but for now I’m relishing being back in the field, scratching away at the dirt and rocks to find meaning in the past.

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